Three years ago, when producer Mukesh Bhatt called a Kolkata film distributor, the phone went unanswered. When the distributor eventually checked his phone, it showed 20 missed calls from Bhatt. Certain that it warranted something urgent, the man immediately returned the call, only to be surprised by the response he got. During the span of those missed calls, Bhatt’s interests had shifted from business to the distributor’s caller tune. A popular Bengali film song, Khujechi Toke Raat Berate, was stuck in his head and all Bhatt wanted from the distributor was the contact of its composer — Jeet Gannguli.
Few months later, the same tune made it to Bhatts’ production, Blood Money as Tere sang kaati raatey. Barring a few chartbusters, the film sank without a trace, but it became Gannguli’s first hit as a Hindi film music composer.
A number of Gannguli’s Bengali compositions have since been made into Hindi songs, including Aashiqui 2’s popular Milne hai mujhse aayi and a couple of songs from Shirin Farhad Ki Toh Nikal Padi. “My biggest pride is that Bollywood called me because of my work in Bengal,” says Gannguli sitting in his studio in Lokhandwala.
Gannguli has also been a regular feature in films produced by the Bhatts’ Vishesh Films — Aashiqui 2 in 2013 and now, CityLights.
The latter, he says, is the most “different” of his largely mainstream body of work. Having worked mostly in commercial films, Gannguli is banking on it to break free from that image. “The music is moody and raw. I got the film after it was made and the prospect of creating music juxtaposed with realistic visuals was exciting,” he says.
As an “outsider”, who struggled and eventually settled in Mumbai 18 years ago, Gannguli connected easily with the film’s story.
For its music, he has drawn from his bank of sometimes nightmarish experiences in the city of dreams. His fears of losing his wife during the 2006 train blasts when she went missing for hours, or the fast-paced, compartmentalised lives people live here — have all translated into the music. The result: the emptiness in Rashid Khan’s semi-classical flourishes in the title song, the hopelessness of Arijit Singh’s husky Ek chidaiya, or the current hit, the mushy and melodious ’90s throwback Muskurane Ki Wajah.
What gives Gannguli an edge over an average composer is his vibrant musical background. He is the 18th generation of a family of musicians, who hail from Khardah, West Bengal. While his training in Hindustani classical music and Rabindrasangeet took place at home, he learnt the guitar from legendary bebop jazz guitarist Carlton Kitto. He has also had the experience of playing as a session guitarist with Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali and fusion pop band Colonial Cousins, and was part of a fusion collective in the late ’90s comprising artistes such as Niladri Kumar, Abjijit Pohankar and Vijay Ghate. “As film composers, what we essentially do is fusion. These influences have helped me a great deal,” says Gannguli.
Gannguli is also considered to have brought a change in popular Bengali film music. He vividly remembers the disappointment he felt a few years ago when only Bollywood music played at the Durga Puja pandals in Kolkata. “I took a vow that I would see a Bengali film song playing at a nightclub,” says the 41-year-old. It is fair to say that with film scores such as Challenge, Chirodini Tumi Je Amar and Paran Jai Jaliye Re, Gannguli was able to bridge the urban-rural divide. His new-age sensibilities came as a breath of fresh air. The arrangement, the way they sounded, became “as good as any Hindi song”, employing funk beats and grunge guitars in equal measure, with its Bengali roots intact.
What helped him is his experience of working in a couple of Hindi films — Tere Liye and Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai, which he had composed with Pritam as “Jeet-Pritam”. “We struck friendship as two struggling Bengali musicians in Mumbai. But it didn’t translate to a working relationship even though we are on good terms with each other,” he says. While Pritam became a successful composer in Bollywood, Gannguli returned to his roots, only to comeback a decade later with a better understanding of popular taste.